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72. Memorandum From Dean Moor of the Operations Staff of the National Security Council to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Assessment of the 22 May Plenary Session on Vietnam

The Communist presentations at today's meeting in Paris appeared to represent a serious effort by the other side to engage in a substantive discourse on elements of the President's peace proposal. Although they uttered many of the routine propaganda bromides of the past weeks, the Communists had interesting and detailed things to say on the two central issues: withdrawal and a political settlement. They clearly appear to be interested and to be pressing for further elaborations or modifications of the U.S. stand.

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The DRV focused on the withdrawal question, while the NLF carried the main burden on a political solution. Following are the highlights:

Withdrawal: Xuan Thuy began by setting up the standard Communist argument for the necessity of an unconditional pullout of all U.S. troops. He pointedly tried to rule out the possibility that Hanoi might be interested in some formal, reciprocal arrangement involving a linking of the NLF Point 3 (the question of Vietnamese forces) and Point 10 (overseeing the withdrawal of U.S. forces).

However, his presentation was couched in a manner suggesting that Hanoi might be willing to undertake a tacit response to a U.S. pullout. Thuy did this in part by asserting that President Nixon's plan was the same as former President Johnson's in that the latter had called for reciprocal withdrawal before stopping the bombing. The implication was that another similar “understanding” might be possible.

The impression of DRV interest in President Nixon's proposal on withdrawal was strengthened by Thuy's remarks on the 12-month timetable. Thuy noted that this had been applied to only a partial and not to a complete U.S. withdrawal. He appeared to be asking by implication for the U.S. to set a time limit for a full-scale withdrawal. It seems possible that once such a timetable were set, the Communists might be willing to give us more assurances about the removal of NVA forces under point three of the NLF plan.

Ambassador Lodge picked up the interesting DRV comment on our 12-month time limit and, in the rebuttal period of the meeting, clarified our position. He noted that we were willing to discuss setting a time period for a full mutual withdrawal, if the other side would indicate its interest in negotiations on this subject.

A Political Settlement: The NLF handled this issue by a rather warped comparison of the President's proposal for general elections and its own proposition on elections and a coalition. Although expectedly one-sided, it at least amounted to a substantive discourse which definitely depicted interest in the U.S. proposal.

According to Tran Buu Kiem, the important question was how “political power is to be solved” in South Vietnam pending general elections. Kiem noted that the President had not spoken of this, but that it was clear he meant for the GVN to be paramount. This was unacceptable, he said. Kiem went on to explain what the Communists had in mind by their proposal that “neither party shall impose its political regime” during this period. This meant the formation of a “provisional administration” he said.

He then offered the NLF formula for the “peace-loving” forces in SVN to get together and set up a coalition. It was clear from his manner of presentation, however, that the Communists are definitely prepared to bargain on the details of the “provisional administration.”

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Interesting in this connection was Kiem's condemnation of the Saigon regime for wishing to “monopolize power” during this period— a kind of admission that the NLF is seeking only a share of the authority.

Kiem then introduced a new twist in the Communist strategy which could mark the beginning of a new campaign to undermine Saigon. He said that the NLF is now “ready to conduct talks with persons of goodwill who favor peace, independence and neutrality.” This goes a little further than the standard NLF position that it is prepared to conduct talks with a “peace cabinet” which presumably has replaced the Saigon regime. Although Kiem called once again for the formation of a peace cabinet, he seemed to be suggesting that the Front is encouraging dissident groups to begin consultations with the NLF regardless of their political status and authority within South Vietnam. This could set the stage for a revival of the alliance.

POW's: Ambassador Lodge's demarche on the question of a POW list drew a completely negative response from the DRV. It seems clear that they are not prepared to give us any satisfaction on this score at this point, even though their hardline stand may cost them some propaganda points if carefully exploited by the U.S.

General Comment: We may be seeing an attempt by the Communists to sidestep private negotiations and to conduct an exploratory, probing type of negotiation at the plenary meetings. In any case, there would appear to be considerable room for the U.S. to tailor a response at the next plenary meeting to the specific points made today by the Communists in an effort to advance the process of movement by the other side.2

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 182, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, Memos and Miscellaneous, Vol. III, 4/5–69. Secret; Nodis; Paris Negotiations; Plus. Sent for information. Sent through Sneider. Haig wrote on this memorandum: “HAK said good job.” Kissinger had this memorandum reworked slightly and sent to the President, May 23. (Ibid.)
  2. At the end of the memorandum Sneider wrote: “I was also struck by the Thuy response to the ‘essential elements’ of the 10 pts—indicating greater flexibility.”